MBA Certification: Boon or Boondoggle? (Forum on Business & Economics)

Article excerpt

An organization called the International Certification Institute (ICI) of Mocksville, North Carolina, recently made a very big splash in the world of business education by announcing its intention to provide and promote a certification exam for candidates in, or graduates of, Masters of Business Administration degree programs. The idea has been compared to medical boards for doctors or the bar for lawyers, a way of measuring and assessing an MBA's fitness to serve and of holding MBA schools accountable for what they teach. In a world wracked by the Enron, Tyco, and Worldcom scandals, this idea has a certain appeal. But it also raises some hard questions.


First, let's consider what an MBA degree really is. The MBA degree was originally envisioned as a vehicle for providing solid business education to individuals who had earned undergraduate degrees in non-business areas. As professionals in any field rise to positions of leadership and business responsibility they begin to realize that they may not progress much further in their careers without an understanding of the principles and methods of business. This demand first materialized in the engineering professions, and schools of business designed the MBA degree initially for engineers. For example, when engineers became managers in engineering or manufacturing firms, they could pursue the MBA both to gain an understanding of business for their work and to prove to all potential critics that they were prepared and indisputably qualified to manage. Other professions were not far behind -- lawyers running law firms, artists running art galleries, computer scientists running computer companies, even doctors runni ng clinics or hospitals. Most of these people came to the MBA classroom with little or no formal business education. And they had to learn everything from scratch.

So, what is an MBA? The MBA is a business "bootcamp" that crams most of an undergraduate business degree, plus advanced coursework in one's major (often called a "concentration"), into an intense two-year full-time program. The first year of most MBA curricula is similar in that business foundations in each subject area must be covered. The first year or so generally includes basic courses in accounting (financial and managerial), economics (micro and macro), management (including organizational behavior), management science (which includes sophisticated business statistical methods), marketing, information systems, and a basic course or two in business law. All degree candidates take this (or a similar) sequence. In most cases, these foundational courses must be completed successfully before moving on to the upper-level coursework in the second year of the MBA.

Even within this framework, though, the potential for variation is significant because different schools emphasize different areas of specialization. The content of the basic courses can vary importantly and legitimately from school to school. This difference is illustrated by the so-called Techno-MBA degrees that were all the rage a few years back, in which mathematical modeling and information technologies were strongly emphasized across the MBA curricula of some schools.


ICI believes that its certification program, the CMBA, will inspire confidence in an MBA-qualified job candidate's mastery of basic business skills and thus in the candidate's performance potential on the job. The Institute further maintains that the CMBA confirms for MBA students and employers alike that the candidate has a certifiable command of business fundamentals and is "Certified for Success" (their words found on at the time of this writing). ICI also believes that a certification of MBA graduates can "level the playing field" and make it possible for MBAs from less-prestigious universities to compete with graduates of the top tier neutralizing the effect of graduate-program reputation in hiring. …